ID Insanity.

One of my favorite aspects of diving is looking up the fish and critters I photographed during the dive to learn what they are. While I’m not great at retaining the knowledge, especially with places I only visit infrequently (or just once), I enjoy knowing what I saw. I also try to log the names as keywords in Lightroom so I can reference them later.

Of course there are always those critters that don’t quite match the options available in my book and you start to wonder. Could it be? Maybe it’s? Hmm, I wonder….

Luckily for me, we live in a digital age, where I can upload a photo into google image search, add a keyword and bring up all the similar images floating around the interweb… mystery critter no longer!

This was the case for one of my nudibranch from the 2013 Anilao trip. In my book there were a few possibilities, but none of the photos matched. My nudi had white bumps when all of the pictures had orange or yellow bumps. Another species had major variation with either orange or white bumps, but I dismissed it because it still was not quite what I had seen. Turns out I was wrong. That last species was the winner, thanks to a google image search which brought up several matching nudis, more than one of which was labelled Phyllidia ocellata. While you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, I feel pretty confident that its a good ID. I guess I should have put more faith in the first two words on that entry in my Reef Creature Guide…. “Highly Variable”.

Hello Phyllidia ocellata.

Phyllidia ocellata

Phyllidia ocellata

Anilao Nudibranch Heaven.

Anilao is known as the nudibranch capital of the world and for good reason. Not only are you apt to find a nudi on every dive, but its very likely that you can find a different nudi on every dive (or several different nudi’s). In 2013 I got my first chance to dive Anilao, in Batangas, Philippines, as a trip leader for Bluewater Photo. Nervous, as it was my first time leading a trip… let alone my first ever international diving trip, it all ended up going very well. We had a great group of guests, really enjoyed the resort (Crystal Blue), and my co-leader, Ron, was excellent.

I had heard tales of the variety of life found throughout the Anilao region and had perused through some fish and invertebrate ID books prior to the trip but was still floored by the incredible biodiversity found on every dive. This region varies from beautiful coral reefs to seemingly barren, sandy muck dives. The knowledgeable guides really make the trip, as they know where to find unique critters and help you discover all the treasures hiding throughout the dive.

I love the various colors, shapes and sizes of nudibranchs found throughout the world and getting to dive in Anilao was amazing. Here are just a sample of what I saw throughout my (too short) week diving with the hundreds of nudibranchs in Anilao. (I tried to ID them properly, but if I am incorrect, let me know in the comments!)

Ranging in size from extremely small to bigger than my fist, one of the most enjoyable parts of diving in Anilao was searching for as many different nudibranchs as I could find. It was easy to spot the Choromodoris annae as they stand out and can often be found out and about. The better camouflaged ones were often spotted by the incredibly talented guides, who know where to look and what to look for. More often then not, the guide would point at a nondescript section of reef and it would take me a few moments before I could discern the nudibranch from the surrounding environment. These of course were often the most unique sightings, and usually the ones most difficult to photograph well.

One of my favorites from Anilao is the Chromodoris willani, which I dubbed “Sparkle Butt” as its gills were speckled and looked like they sparkled. In addition to that, the Ceratosoma alleni was incredible primarily for its size and unique shape, though easy to miss despite being nearly 5 inches long as it camouflaged well with the surroundings.

There are so many more incredible nudibranch and other critters from the Philippines, way too many for one simple post, but I figured this would be a great place to start.

 

Long Time.

Hello dear readers! There are apparently some of you that haven’t given up hope in light of my silence over the last few months… there seems to be an average of a whopping 3 views per day with weird spikes like 112 views on Sunday, April 7th. Perhaps that was because I was supposed to dive, but it was cancelled for weather. Regardless, thanks to the faithful, I hope to earn your readership back as I plunge forward once more.

I apologize for the silence… its been a combination of things that have kept me from updating, namely Ironman training. What’s that you ask? Just a small little race of insanity that has completely overidden my life. (you can read all about my previous IM adventure here). Due to the IM training I’ve been in the water only a handful of times this year, and I’m surely missing it. We’re 10 weeks out from the race and things are ramping up. Work has been super busy as everyone starts gearing up for their summer holidays, however this little blog, and my joy of sharing my underwater photography activities has always been in the back of my mind. I have a little catch up to play, and I hope that I can get a few posts up here over these next 10 weeks, to revive this little site and keep sharing my favorites! Here’s a little sneak peek of what’s ahead…. so for now, hello! Goodbye! I promise it won’t be so long next time.

BB-Goby

This Blue Banded Goby was hanging out at Casino Point in Catalina. I used a Sola 800 Photo light with the red light on to be able to sneak up on him. Took this on a day I was out diving solo testing three new lenses for the store. It was a perfect day, with great visibility, calm conditions and lots of little fishes for my macro tests.

In the Nud(i).

Two weekends ago after our dive on the Midnight Hour, we headed over to a “secret” pinnacle spot that is a favorite of Sand Dollar Capt. George. I’d had a chance to dive this pinnacle before and it really is awesome. The visibility was still pretty good, but I wasn’t as worried about that, I was hunting nudibranchs. Unlike my day spent at Casino Point, this time I was not disappointed. The little slugs were everywhere, in all sizes, species and colors, swaying with the water as they clung to the rocks and plants on the pinnacle. I probably spent the full dive in about a 10′ square area on one side of the pinnacle, just moving from nudi to nudi as I looked for ones that were in good positions and places for photographing. I was able to play around with my strobes to try and create more creative lighting.

Of course I found a Spanish Shawl (Flabellina iodinea), a California Classic, and this baby was a big one. He was pretty much out in the open, allowing me to really frame him in a dynamic way, diagonally through the photo.

I found one of my favorite (because of the awesome blue color), Porter’s Chromodorid (Mexichromis porterae) which are vivid blue with two yellow stripes. Upon closer inspection I realized it was two, cuddled up with each other. I couldn’t quite get in there to be able to see the second guys’ head, but it was neat to see the two together.

I even came across a Hermissenda (Hermissenda crassicornis) chilling on a small kelp leaf.. the position you never see them in! It was facing away from me which was disappointing, but I figured it offered a good chance to try and practice a little back lighting through the kelp to highlight the little nudi. I lucked out as I started shooting the little guy turned towards me offering a nicely posed photo. The back-lighting plan didn’t work as well, but I think having one strobe behind the kelp did add to they way the kelp looks.

Lastly I got a nice classic shot of a San Diego Dorid (Diaulula sandiegensis) as he crawled across the weedy landscape.

The Eyes Have it.

A couple weekends ago I went out to Casino Point on Catalina with two friends for the sole purpose of just doing several relaxing dives and practicing some macro photography. I was using two strobes again, something I’m still getting used to, and had two different cameras to try out, my olympus and the new Panasonic GX1. I really enjoyed using the Panasonic, trying these new cameras really reminds me how much has advanced since I bought my Oly two and half years ago. The focus speed on the GX1 was amazing, and the LCD is really bright, crisp and detailed. The only drawback I found with the camera and kit lens is that the lens does not focus very close so it was difficult for getting good close macro shots.

The point was busy as usual with lots of people diving and students learning to dive. That meant that many areas of the dive park dropped to cloudy 5′ visibility due to the number of inexperienced fins causing the sand to billow up and into the water. This is to be expected here, which is why I wanted to focus on macro. I was hoping to hit some of the deeper sections and hunt for nudibranchs, but it seemed there were none to be found. I saw only two nudi’s on all three dives, only one of which I could actually photograph.

One of two nudis that I saw all day, the Catalina Triopha

I focused instead on trying to sneak up on the tiny gobies, and got a good shot of a black eyed goby, and an okay shot of a blue banded, which are even harder to sneak up on. I saw two bat rays, that swam off before we could get close, and lots of large sheep head and bass.

Black Eyed Goby perching on rocks

The highlight of the day for me was a very patient young halibut (i think) who allowed me to swim up in front of him and take picture after picture. He even stayed chill when I put on my macro lens and moved in closer and closer. I think at one point I even bumped into him and all he did was flutter up a bit then settle back down. I left with a nice shot of his eyes up close that I was really happy with.

Over all it was a pleasant day of diving, especially now that the water is warming up into the 60’s and the air temps are moving into the high 70’s. Summer is here and its looking to be beautiful.

Close up of a Giant Spined Sea Star (Cropped from original)

Little Hermit crab out for an afternoon stroll.

More Macro.

I spent a little time messing around with back lighting and macro practice on a Red Gorgonian. I positioned my strobe as far in front of my camera as I could, aiming it back towards the lens. I then was able to position the camera in front of this gorgonian covered in polyps with the strobe now behind it. This configuration created the dark centers and nice bright flower looking polyps along the edges.

Later, I wanted to see just how close I could get, and tried taking several shots of a bat star’s skin. I was impressed to see the detail, and the different colors that make up its skin. The rough looking orange section and the transparent purple bits. The photo isn’t amazing, but I love seeing these creatures super closer!